Long parting with the ghosts of the past

MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Maxim Krans) - A recent appeal by several famous Russian politicians and cultural figures to establish a national memorial to the victims of Stalin's purges, and Mikhail Gorbachev's proposal to move Lenin's corpse from its mausoleum on Red Square, are giving the new president more food for thought.

Isn't it time to bid a final farewell to the ghosts of communism, and dot the i's and cross the t's in the recent history of our state? In other words, shouldn't he do what his two predecessors failed to, or did not want to do?

The authors of the appeal say the proposed memorial is necessary not only to remember the era but also to help understand how so many millions of people could have become victims. As those who witnessed these events pass away, genuine history is being replaced with myths and the dry lines of text books, where "a sinister figure of Stalin, this time as an 'effective manager,' is being revived on barren memories." This is a direct reference to a new history textbook, from which our children and grandchildren are supposed to gain an understanding of the communist era.

But it is not the only case in point. Numerous "scholarly" and "fictional" works, as well as TV "documentaries," have appeared in recent years which make glaring omissions, or even contradictions, of the facts, and seek to present "the leader of all nations" and his bloody entourage in a favorable light.

As for the "ever-living" founding father of the authoritarian Soviet system, one of the signatories of the appeal, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, proposed that his corpse should be removed from the mausoleum and buried in a normal way. He also suggested removing the cemetery next to the Kremlin wall on Red Square, where real villains, guilty of the most horrendous crimes, lie buried alongside genuinely outstanding people. The idea is not new, but it is still topical. The more radical democrats pressed for such a move in the early 1990s but the general public did not support them, and the authorities did not dare to take such a radical step.

But the public mood has shifted. In the past the ratio between supporters and opponents of Lenin's reburial was approximately fifty-fifty. Now, according to the Public Opinion Fund (POF), it is 46% to 29%. The ratio is approximately the same on the issue of removing the sculptures of Lenin that adorn the main streets of almost every Russian city and village.

Incidentally, the VTsIOM pollster found that only a quarter of Russians support the return of "Iron" Felix Dzerzhinsky's statue to Lubyanka Square.

Yet, these proposals are aimed at more than the removal of Lenin's relics and other communist symbols from our streets. We must resolutely pass the point of no-return, and shut the door to the past once and for all. Gorbachev believes that to do this we should complete the rehabilitation of those who perished in Stalin's purges. This process has been interrupted more than once, which, he says, shows that "some people do not want it," and that "the situation in this country is still far from normal."

It is certainly not normal that the victims of the Katyn tragedy have not been rehabilitated. In 1990, the government issued an official statement acknowledging Soviet guilt in shooting 22,000 Polish officers taken prisoner during the partition of Poland in 1939. The Soviet and Russian presidents confirmed our responsibility for this crime. Though Vladimir Putin refused to put an equation mark between Nazi and Stalinist reprisals, he said that it was possible to rehabilitate the murdered Poles.

However, when their relatives addressed the Moscow Court, their case was dismissed. The Chief Military Prosecutor's Office halted its investigation into the massacre altogether on the grounds that "there is no evidence of the crime of genocide," and the perpetrators are dead. Moreover, it also classified most of the volumes (116 out of 183) of material gathered during the 15-year investigation.

Over the past few years it has become almost politically incorrect in Russia to criticize the Soviet era or talk about historic responsibility for the policies of previous regimes. Not a word is said about the massive famine of the 1930s, the millions of people who perished in our concentration camps, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, or the criminal deportation of whole peoples. The stubborn refusal to discuss or even acknowledge this grim history plays directly into the hands of nationalists in neighboring states, who are equally unscrupulous in exploiting these episodes for their own self-centered political aims.

This ostrich-like denial has another effect. The clarity with which the criminality of the Bolshevik leaders and the inhuman nature of their ideology were once understood in the public mind is becoming clouded. The POF estimates that some 40% of Russians believe that the October 1917 coup was on balance more positive than negative for Russia, and 54% of young people polled by the Levada Center are convinced that Stalin's actions were more good than bad.

This is why these initiatives are more urgent than ever before. Russia must part with its dark past once and for all, but that does not mean things should be forgotten. On the contrary, all secrets should be revealed. Future generations should know the whole truth; they should remember it and avoid its mistakes.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of Trend.

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